A few weeks ago, the Australian Prime Minister passed legislation that permanently shut the Australian border to all asylum seekers who arrive on boat. There was a furore, then it appears to have dissipated into apathetic acceptance. A few days ago, an Australian newspaper printed a headline clearly against said Prime Minister. In social media alone, the backlash has been huge and segments of the populous are considering legal action against the paper. The reactions have been equally impassioned in the two circumstances, although I would struggle to endow them with equal importance. I can only assume that this level of response comes from a belief, which lies deeper than everyone’s understanding, that what is on paper is still, somehow, the unsullied truth. But question most lucid people and they can happily point to the lack of journalistic impartiality that exists in all news media. It’s just that no-one likes an open letter aimed at them all. Everyone has a view on how they should be spoken to, and communicated about, on paper.
On paper, a lot of life looks grand. Look at other people’s bios, CVs or eulogies and you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone has their life planned and played out towards brilliance. You’d get the impression that theirs are lives filled with purpose and connection, that success suddenly just blessed them with its presence and that fulfilment has permeated into every nook and cranny of their lives. That’s because, in a manner not dissimilar to some news reporting, all you are seeing is the outcome and very little to do with the underlying process. But from that viewpoint, have you then looked at what you would put on paper and considered the pre-conceptions with which you view that process? I used to be a teacher, I never had to write a CV, just answer an application form. When it came to doing my first CV, it was such a painful process that I still remember it clearly. I broke down at the opening paragraph. I got stroppy with my then boyfriend, marched into the bedroom and bawled my eyes out. I got smacked in the face fair and square with ‘imposter syndrome’. After all, who the hell was I to pretend that I had any qualities that pipped me above any other candidate going for the same role? When I had to provide that summation of my skills, I got lost in the story of how I got those skills, what the exceptions to the rules were and every other self-defeating thought. In my eyes, with ignorance of everyone else’s back stories, all other CVs were truths and mine were half truths at best.
I come from a generation where we still have that niggling faith that we have to look good on paper. A CV has to scream reliability and professionalism, a bio intelligence and maturity. If you have letters after your name, you are winning. Friends have to match up with easy points of connection and partners have to tick all the right boxes. But the world is shifting and the currency of paper personas with it. Arguably, now, no longer do you need to hold down jobs for a certain amount of time to avoid being seen as flaky. No longer do you have to flock with the same kind. No more do you have to pursue a single minded path in anything to avoid being judged. No longer is it assumed that common hobbies and values will a lifetime relationship make. In a world of flux, the way you need to present now is between pen and person. And that brings its own challenges. In person, two things need to be in place: the ability to project effectively and the ability to read accurately.
The problem with this is we live in a world where more and more interactions are completed remotely. We communicate increasingly via technology at the precise moment in time when we need to be able to read and connect with people the most. We are taught that black and white and face to face are no longer honest, you have to be cynical to be wise. You have to be able to join the dots between the online, on paper, over the phone, face to face personas and find the truth within it all. You have to be able to sift through all the projected voices and find the heart within them in a culture where we are encouraged to judge the superficial all the time.
Is it any wonder then that the world is so confused? On paper, we have everything going for us; in blood, sweat and tears, the story is different. On paper, we are qualified to make every person live and love better, in souls there’re more conflicts than ever.
I believe, ever increasingly, where possible, people need to start to make words accountable in whatever medium. If you feel sorry for celebrities falling apart at the seams, stop buying the cheap gossip magazines that pave the way. If you believe in equality, stop echoing stereotypes every time you are too angry to care. If you feel like you are less than the sum of your written parts, read more so you understand that we all share the same plight. And to you, dear WordPress land, keep writing your truths. Because it has to count. It has to mean something that we reach more people with our own sense of humanity, vulnerability, power and compassion. Because here, I think, the world is starting to make sense on ‘paper’.